01/30/2008 12:00AM

Sign of normalcy: Training resumes

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Benoit & Associates
Santa Anita maintenance crew works on the wet Cushion Track material Monday. Fibers and binders will be added to the track to aid drainage.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Tuesday morning at dawn, Santa Anita looked like a racetrack again.

Dark skies gave way to an orange-pink sunrise, storm clouds began to break apart, and for the first time in nearly a week, the damp Santa Anita main track was operational for morning workouts.

The 62 horses who worked Tuesday represented the first full work tab on Santa Anita's problematic main oval since Jan. 23. That was before the latest rainstorm rendered the synthetic Cushion Track surface unusable, and racing was canceled last week for all but one of the five scheduled days. Seven of the first 26 race days already have been lost because the track has failed to drain sufficiently after heavy rain.

When the rain finally let up Monday, the track's superintendent, Richard Tedesco, and his crew were able to prepare the surface for training Tuesday and racing Thursday.

A complete repair project coordinated by the Australian synthetic-surface company Pro-Ride will begin after the races Sunday, weather permitting. The repair project, expected to take four days, includes the addition of Pro-Ride fibers and binders to alleviate the track's drainage issues. Tedesco said he and his crew are working closely with Pro-Ride to prepare for the project.

Pro-Ride, Tedesco said, "is actually calling all the shots now. They're telling us what they want."

The first step to preparing the track, starting Monday, was to remove wet Cushion Track substance that was heaped alongside the outer rail.

"We took a lot of the material off," Tedesco said Tuesday. "We didn't want to mix in the wet stuff because of the Pro-Ride installation."

Efforts were being made to dry the surface out, because, said Tedesco, Pro-Ride "can install better with the a dry track."

The installation also requires uniformity in depth, and the track cushion on Tuesday varied from six to seven inches.

"We have to get it to a six-inch profile all the way across, all the way around," Tedesco said.

The addition of the Pro-Ride material will increase the cushion to 7 1/2 inches. Race times, which have bordered on the bizarre, should slow down.

After training hours on Tuesday, heavy equipment returned to the main track to level the track and remove more wet material that had been heaped around the outer lanes of the clubhouse turn and in the seven-furlong chute.

With dry weather forecast, no further interruptions are expected in the Thursday-through-Sunday racing schedule this week. Santa Anita will be closed for racing next Monday through Thursday (Tuesday and Wednesday are scheduled dark days), and tentatively is scheduled to reopen on Friday, Feb. 8.

Though many trainers on Tuesday preferred waiting a day for the track to settle before working their horses, in some cases the timing of races left no other option. Jeff Mullins trains Silky Smooth, who runs Saturday in the Grade 1 Santa Monica Handicap. That seven-furlong sprint was rescheduled after racing was canceled Sunday, and Mullins admitted he was somewhat apprehensive working Silky Smooth on the surface.

"There's more anxiety running in a Grade 1 without a workout, though," he said.

Silky Smooth worked after the 9 a.m. break, and went five furlongs in 1:03.40. She started slowly and finished the final eighth-mile in about 11 seconds.

The track was considerably slower Tuesday morning than it had been Saturday afternoon for the abnormally fast Sunshine Millions card, which included a North American record six-furlong time of 1:06.53. Jockey Aaron Gryder said the main track Tuesday "is like most tracks that are drying out."

"It's a little bit heavy, but it's safe," he said. "It's better this way than just being concrete."

Bob Baffert worked six horses, including Santa Monica starter Pussycat Doll and Air Commander, who runs Saturday in the Grade 2 Strub Stakes. Before the workouts, Baffert inspected the track and was satisfied with its condition.

"It's sand, and we just went easy," he said. "The only time the track is dangerous is when it is sealed."

Pussycat Doll worked five furlongs in 1:00.80. Air Commander worked a half-mile in 49.60 seconds. Workout times were more than one second slower than the last time the main track was open for training all morning, on Jan. 23. The fastest workout times Tuesday were 1:00.40 for five furlongs, and 47.40 seconds for a half-mile.